2 public defenders honored

They fought, won death penalty battle

May 29, 2006|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN REPORTER

Soldiers receive medals. Police officers win citations. But what about court-appointed defense attorneys, who quietly labor to represent those accused of the most heinous crimes?

On Friday, two of them got some welcome time in the spotlight, receiving the annual John Adams Award for outstanding work defending the indigent in federal court in Maryland.

Maryland Federal Public Defender James Wyda described attorneys Charles Bernstein and Michael Schatzow as heroes, but not because they arrested lawbreakers or prosecuted criminals.

"This afternoon, we honor other heroes," Wyda said, explaining that the men sought to protect the liberty of the wrongly accused and preserve the constitutional rights of those suspects tried in court.

Bernstein and Schatzow, both federal public defenders now in private practice, were lauded for successfully beating back the decade-long government attempt to put a Baltimore man to death.

The attorneys represented Donald Lee Ferebe, who had been convicted of a 1994 murder. From his jail cell, authorities said, Ferebe ordered two gunmen to kill a witness to the murder. Two people died in the 1995 shooting.

Ferebe is serving a life prison term for the 1994 murder. But the defense attorneys saved his life when they showed the courts that prosecutors did not follow proper procedures for pursuing the death penalty for the subsequent murders. The courts ruled that the government let too much time elapse before declaring its intention to put Ferebe to death.

In August last year, the U.S. attorney's office announced it would abandon the case.

The defense attorneys credited each other Friday for the courtroom victory, with Bernstein saying that Schatzow pursued the legal issue with the tenacity of a "dog on a bone."

Last week, federal law enforcement officials also honored their own in a private ceremony in the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore.

"These award recipients have made tremendous contributions to the public good in Maryland, often at great personal cost," U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement. "We have too few opportunities to express our appreciation for the remarkable work done by federal government attorneys, agents and employees."

The Gary Jordan Award, named for the late second-in-command of the office, went to Allen F. Loucks, who served as interim U.S. attorney last year.

Two prosecutors, Jefferson M. Gray and Craig M. Wolff, received the Barnet D. Skolnik Award, named for a former federal prosecutor in Maryland who handled the corruption case against Vice President Spiro T. Agnew.

Steven J. Hess, the office's law enforcement coordinator, was named the office's Employee of the Year.

And four federal investigators - FBI Special Agents Steven M. Quisenberry, Marc C. Savine and David S. Bell, and Securities and Exchange Commission investigator J. Paul Rihn - received the Pete Twardowicz Award, named for a former IRS criminal investigator.

Officials said the four received the award for their work on the stock fraud investigation and prosecution of former pension fund manager Nathan A. Chapman Jr. and his associates.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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